Abortion issue simmers before Ginsburg hearings

June 19, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau Jeff Leeds of the Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee is beginning to be pressured to make a searching inquiry into Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg's views on abortion when it holds hearings a month from now.

Abortion has been a significant issue in all hearings on court nominees for a dozen years, but Judge Ginsburg's public comments on the issue -- and her recent revisions of her most controversial statement --are intensifying the interest, according to Senate aides and to activists who oppose abortion.

Senators on the Judiciary Committee could not be reached yesterday for their reactions to Judge Ginsburg's views on abortion; most of the senators were traveling. Aides, however, said they expected the members to show a strong interest in that subject.

The committee yesterday set the hearings to begin July 20, in hopes of getting the nomination through the Senate before a recess begins in August. President Clinton and Judge Ginsburg's supporters have been hoping for a swift and easy review of the nominee.

Women's rights and abortion-rights groups have been endorsing Judge Ginsburg openly or at least maintaining a discreet silence. New York University law professor Sylvia A. Law, a feminist legal scholar and a strong supporter of the nominee, has called on several women's rights activists here to maintain their support should the judge's views on abortion become a significant issue, according to individuals in the women's movement.

Ms. Law apparently played an instrumental role in encouraging Judge Ginsburg to modify the most controversial statement of her views on abortion. Judge Ginsburg spelled out those views most fully in a lecture in March at New York University School of Law; the remarks were sharply critical of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 abortion ruling.

The original version of that lecture seemed quite favorable toward last year's ruling in a Pennsylvania case that cut back on the constitutional right to have an abortion. Since then, the judge has been making changes in the version of the lecture to be published later by NYU, and the changes show her to be critical of the Pennsylvania decision, especially for failing to take into account the impact of abortion restrictions on poor and "unsophisticated" women.

Ms. Law, a longtime friend of Judge Ginsburg, met her after the lecture at NYU, and "I argued with her" about her favorable comments on the Pennsylvania ruling, the professor recalled yesterday. "I thought she was just completely off the mark, she was just wrong on [that decision]." Later, the professor said, Judge Ginsburg called her and asked for copies of articles the feminist scholar had written on abortion.

The revisions since made are attracting notice from the other side of the abortion controversy. Thomas L. Jipping, a conservative activist with close ties to Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that the new version shows the judge to be "decidedly more strident" in favor of abortion rights.

The changes, he said, indicate a view "much more critical of any flexible approach. The Judiciary Committee should ask her which are her views: She must ally herself with one [version] and repudiate the other." Mr. Jipping runs a judicial monitoring project for the Free Congress Foundation's Coalitions of America.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, the largest anti-abortion group, said he hopes the committee hearings "draw out" her views on abortion restrictions "so everyone is clear."

"We have understood her views, but some think there has been confusion. . . . We believe she's always expressed hostility toward any restrictions on abortion."

Although groups supporting Judge Ginsburg have been saying privately that they hope to avoid a public debate over her views on abortion, they appeared yesterday to be taking the view that no one should ever have questioned that she favored abortion rights.

Leslie Wolfe, executive director of the Center for Women's Policy Studies, remarked: "I don't think there's any question of her commitment to the right to abortion."

Other women's rights activists echoed Judge Ginsburg's husband, Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer, saying that revisions in her lecture were simply normal changes done in an academic presentation.

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